Yvonne Ewell, trailblazing educator, administrator, and community leader, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Valcris Ewell, Sr., was born in Frankston, Texas, on September 19, 1926. She received a bachelor’s degree from Prairie View A&M College (now Prairie View A&M University) and a master’s degree from the University of Colorado. After spending seven years in Ladonia, Texas, she began teaching in Dallas in 1954 at Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School.
In 1964 Ewell became the first African-American woman appointed as the district-wide elementary school consultant. In 1978 she was named associate superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. This role made her the highest-ranking African-American school district administrator in Texas. During her tenure, she “attracted national attention for implementing several innovative programs and was a highly sought speaker on the lecture circuit.” She held this position until 1981, when East Oak Cliff, the portion of the district for which she was primarily responsible, dissolved. She then became the court-appointed school desegregation monitor for the Dallas school district from 1981 to 1984. During this time, she began work with other committee members on planning for a magnet school within the district. In the fall of 1995 the magnet school opened in East Oak Cliff and was named after Ewell. The Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center still operated in 2012.
Yvonne Ewell retired in 1985 from day-to-day work within the school district. More than 400 guests attended her retirement party, including Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women in Washington D.C.
In 1987 Ewell was elected to the Dallas school board where she served ten years as a representative for District No. 5. She defeated the two-term incumbent Robert Hesters and three others and received 56 percent of the vote. While on the school board, she gained a reputation as a fierce advocate for students. Board president, Hollis Brashear, called Ewell the “conscience” and the “soul” of the board. In a Dallas Times Herald article that was printed the year of her election, Ewell stated, “The issue [of her candidacy and her role on the board] is not who likes me and who doesn’t. The issue is how do we teach reading tomorrow. The issue is how do we test the children, and do we or do we not test administrators.”
Ewell not only took a stand for children within the Dallas Independent School District, she made a stand on any matter within the district that she thought required attention. In 1994 she criticized what she called the “social chaos” that was exhibited at high school graduations and issued a public “call to civility” for students and attendees. That same year she joined two other black school board members in opposing the Dallas Independent School District’s request to be removed from the list of schools receiving court-supervised desegregation.
Ewell received numerous honors during her career. Among them was a 1978 Award of Excellence from the Golden Gate-Joseph E. Lockridge Scholarship Foundation. Bishop College awarded her with an honorary doctor of law degree in 1979. She was inducted into the Texas Black Women Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1990 she received the A. Maceo Smith Award for her community service.
Ewell was active in Munger Avenue Baptist Church, the national YWCA board, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. She also held memberships in the Dallas Child Care Association, the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas, the South Dallas Business and Professional Women’s Club, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the National Council of Urban Boards of Education, and other organizations.
Yvonne Ewell, who never married, died on Monday April 27, 1998, of pancreatic cancer at Methodist Medical Center in Dallas. Her funeral services were held at Concord Baptist Church in Dallas, and memorial services took place for her at Fair Park’s Hall of State in Dallas and Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Frankston, Texas.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.